By Paul Natinsky
Southeastern Michigan has the largest Chaldean population in the country, and the largest outside of Iraq. The second largest region, San Diego, is a distant second. This translates to an increased weight in how the community is represented in the State of Michigan’s government.
“Making sure the Chaldean community is engaged is a priority,” says Ghida Dagher, Director of Appointments for Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Currently, in the administration two Chaldeans have been appointed to key positions – Nadine Yousif Kalasho and Grace Sesi.
Kalasho was appointed to the Commission on Middle Eastern American Affairs.
Housed in the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, the 15-member Commission monitors, evaluates, and provides recommendations to the Governor and department regarding issues facing the Middle-Eastern American Community. The Commission also works to enhance economic opportunity, prevent discrimination, and spread awareness of Middle Eastern American culture.
An attorney, Kalasho is the president and chief executive officer of CODE Legal Aid, a nonprofit that helps immigrants with legal counsel. Putting herself on the frontlines of the battle with ICE, she took on the responsibility of trying to keep hundreds of immigrants in the country. In 2017, she represented some Iraqi detainees in their fight to avoid deportation and helped win an extended stay.
Her appointment is an especially important contribution given her experience with the mass deportations. Until recently, many people outside Michigan were unaware of the mass Chaldean detentions in Detroit. The death of Jimmy Aldaoud, who was deported to Iraqi and died there, made national news, pushing Michigan into the spotlight on the issue. The 41-year-old, who had diabetes and severe mental illness, had spent nearly his whole life in Detroit until being deported. His family said he died from lack of insulin.
Dagher says the deportation issue is important to Governor Whitmer and factored into the appointment. Earlier this year the governor stopped the sale of a state prison to the federal government, which would have acted as a detention center. At the time CODE commented positively.
Kalasho succeeded Abe Munfakh at the Commission.
Sesi was appointed to the Michigan Board of Pharmacy. A licensed pharmacist, the Troy native is the Greater Detroit Area district leader for CVS Health. She succeeded Nicole Penny, whose term expired this past June.
These two appointments are part of larger goal, for all groups in the state to feel represented, according to Dagher. She says the governor wants as many viewpoints as possible to best reflect the state’s unique makeup. This commitment sits well with the woman in charge of appointments for the Whitmer Administration.
“I would like to see more diversity in our appointments, including Chaldeans,” says Dagher. She says more appointments may come in the future, especially given Whitmer’s history of working with the Arab American Chaldean Council.
There are currently an estimated 160,000 Chaldeans in metro Detroit, according to the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, which points out nearly two-thirds of Chaldean households own one business and 39 percent own two or more. According to a March 2016 dBusiness article, Chaldeans contribute more than $10.7 billion annually to Michigan’s economy.